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Rays Beat: Tough roster choices upcoming

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Published:   |   Updated: November 3, 2013 at 11:36 AM

ST. PETERSBURG — The easy decisions for the Tampa Bay Rays were made by noon Saturday.

Pick up second baseman Ben Zobrist's option for the 2014 season at $7 million? Absolutely. Pick up the $5 million 2014 option on shortstop Yunel Escobar? You bet.

The tough decision will be made today, when the Rays decide on the $6.5 million option on outfielder David DeJesus. An even tougher decision comes Monday, the deadline to pick up or decline the $2 million option on right-handed pitcher Juan Carlos Oviedo.

Both decisions require a degree of risk.

The Rays were interested in DeJesus long before he was acquired Aug. 23 from the Nationals and would like for him to be part of the 2014 roster, where he can platoon in the outfield and at DH. But $6.5 million is kind of rich for the Rays. They could pay the $1.5 million buyout on DeJesus' contract and try to re-sign him. By doing that, they risk losing DeJesus to another team with a better offer.

That DeJesus could be part of the DH platoon means the team won't look for a DH this offseason. The money saved there could go toward DeJesus' $6.5 million option.

That could also lead to the Rays re-signing DH Delmon Young to serve as the right-handed half of that platoon.

Oviedo was signed in January to a minor-league contract. It was an interesting signing, because Oviedo was recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Oviedo, formerly known as Leo Nunez, did not pitch at the major-league level in 2012. He missed nearly four months while dealing with visa issues in his native Dominican Republic, then serving a suspension for age and identity fraud. A member of the Marlins, Oviedo suffered his elbow injury while pitching his way back into shape at Triple-A New Orleans. He had surgery Sept. 2, 2012.

Oviedo saved 92 games for the Marlins from 2009-11. The Rays signed him with the idea he would complete his rehab during the summer, pitch for them in September then replace closer Fernando Rodney this season.

But Oviedo did not return to the mound, so the Rays do not know if he can return to the full-time role as closer. The Rays could reduce that risk by paying Oviedo a $30,000 buyout and re-signing him to a more team-friendly deal.

The free agents

Nine members of the 2013 team are free agents: 1B James Loney, Rodney, C Jose Molina, RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP Jamey Wright, RHP Jesse Crain, Young, DH Luke Scott and UTL Kelly Johnson.

With the exception of Scott, the Rays are interested in re-signing the remaining eight, though the interest is higher with some players (Loney) than others.

Re-signing Loney will keep the nearly all-Gold Glove infield together. Loney's lack of power — 13 home runs in 2013 — could keep his offers down.

Then again, the Rays didn't expect infielder Jeff Keppinger to receive a three-year, $12 million contract last winter from the White Sox.

Noteworthy

Jeff Ziegler, the Rays' traveling secretary for the past 15 years, resigned to become director of community services for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections. In 2008, Ziegler was voted MLB's traveling secretary of the year in large part for his efforts in relocating the entire Rays traveling party to Wilmington, Del., from Philadelphia on short notice after Game 5 of the World Series was delayed nearly two days by rain. ... There are 103 days until pitchers and catchers report.

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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